Last communion of St. Jerome

(c. 1592-1593, Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale)
   This is Agostino Carracci's most celebrated work. Painted upon his return from his first trip to Venice, the work demonstrates the influence of Venetian art, particularly in the use of a classical arch and columns to enframe the event, the landscape in the background, and the treatment of the putti who hover above. As the title indicates, the work shows St. Jerome receiving the Eucharist right before his death. This is a subject that had already been tackled by Sandro Botticelli (c. 1495; New York, Metropolitan Museum) in a painting he created for the Florentine wool merchant Francesco del Pugliese. Agostino's approach is, however, different from Botticelli's. The scene, described by St. Eusebius in his writings, is supposed to have taken place in St. Jerome's humble cell, which is how Botticelli rendered it. Agostino, on the other hand, placed the event in a classical, upscale setting, contrasting the old, emaciated figure of the saint with the men garbed in impeccable ecclesiastic vestments. Agostino's choices may have had to do with the fact that he was painting at the time of the Counter-Reformation. The Protestants had questioned transubstantiation, the moment when, according to Catholic doctrine, the Eucharist is turned into the actual body and blood of Christ after the priest blesses it. The inclusion of the putti hovering above the scene and the triumphal arch in the background visually indicate divine approval of the doctrine and triumph of the true faith. Agostino's Last Communion of St. Jerome was highly praised by 17th-century theorists and admired by a number of artists, including Peter Paul Rubens and Domenichino, who painted his own version of the scene (1614; Vatican, Pinacoteca) for the Congregation of San Girolamo (Jerome) della Carità in Rome, prompting accusations of plagiarism against him.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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